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The Wireless for Communities (W4C) programme in Nepal

The W4C programme in Nepal was launched in the aftermath of the Gorkha Earthquake in April 2015, in partnership with the Nepal Wireless Networking Project, an initiative of Mahabir Pun, awardee of the Magsaysay Award and Internet Society’s Jonathan B. Postel Service Award.

Overview and approach


Photos by Nepal Wireless Networking Project

Site selection

The Nepal Wireless Networking Project was leading the restoration of information and communication technology systems in grassroots communities after the Gorkha Earthquake. The team travelled to devastated areas, at times by motorbike or on foot to survey rural towns, noting down the GPS coordinates of damaged schools, mobile towers and other infrastructure. The data that the team collected was used to draft a preliminary implementation plan for wireless network rollout, in consultation with the management committees of the local villages, health centres and schools.

All of the sites chosen are remote villages, with the population deriving much of their income from subsistence farming. Cut off from the national power grid, some villages draw electricity from community-built micro-hydrogenerators, while others have basic solar power systems. While increased mobile network coverage has made 2G and 3G Internet service available to urban and peri-urban areas, and WiMax to some rural communities, the villages chosen have not had access to broadband Internet prior to the W4C programme.

Capacity Building

A series of technical and digital literacy workshops were held from the first day and throughout the network deployment period, to not only enable community members to use the Internet meaningfully, but also to keep the wireless networks running smoothly without much need for external assistance.

Achievements and impact

In the first phase, the programme built wireless networks, all powered by solar panels, and connected 12 schools and 3 health clinics in 14 villages in Gorkha, Lamjung and Sindhupalchok districts. The community clinics are now connected to the Kathmandu Model Hospital, which provides telemedicine services to rural areas.

Shared devices were provided to some of the access points to aid Internet adoption in the target communities – health clinics in Barpak and Bhichuk were furnished with a laptop each, while several newly connected schools were given six low-powered personal computers. The latter function as servers for Nepalese-language educational content and an e-library of 7,000 books developed by Open Learning Exchange Nepal. Gorkha Foundation, a US-based non-profit run by Nepali expatriates from Gorkha has pledged to donate 10 computers each to 25 schools in the Gorkha district.

To encourage technical and scientific innovation among youth, the W4C programme established Rural Innovation Labs in three of the villages. These labs provide mechanical and electronic tools, as well as the space for community members to build and experiment with technology.

The W4C programme in Nepal is planning for the next phase to expand the programme and work with targeted communities to introduce relevant online content and services. The plan is to build the community’s capacity to use the Internet for e-agriculture, e-banking, e-learning, e-health and rural innovation.

Partnerships

The Nepal Wireless Networking Project was licensed by the Nepal Telecommunication Authority to deploy wireless networks and provide Internet services to rural areas in the country. This contributed greatly to the rapid establishment of wireless networks in the targeted villages, with minimal bureaucratic hurdles. Various partners also had a hand in the rollout, including WorldLink Communications that helped with installing the Wi-Fi hot spots and the network management server, and provided discounted Internet bandwidth. Lumbini Net, assisted in laying out the backhaul line in Gorkha. The local community, which owns an FM radio station in Satipipal, lent its tower to the W4C programme to establish a base station on its premises free of charge.

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